From the Patriot News:
Sprouting among abandoned radio crystal plants at the edge of town is Carlisle’s 21st-century answer to Silicon Valley.
Twenty-something computer specialists in jeans and sneakers occupy the entire first floor of the Murata Business Center, an incubator for entrepreneurs. Multiple monitors are perched on desks from Swedish furnisher IKEA in softly lighted offices. Midday, they break for a cup of coffee or can of Mello Yello. Then, it’s back to designing Web pages and tracking Internet activity for clients who dropped a collective $1 million last year on digital advertising.
They are the Internet marketers at WebpageFX, a homegrown company in its third year at the center.
Internationally known, independent TopSeos.com — sort of the Consumer Reports for Internet marketing clients — ranked WebpageFX 15th on its November list of the world’s 50 best companies for search engine optimization — SEO.
With annual growth of 25 percent to 30 percent in revenue and staff in the last three years, WebpageFX also far outpaces its Pennsylvania peers, according to the state’s latest job statistics.
Jobs in the computer systems design subcategory of the state’s professional, scientific and technical service sector were down 4.5 percent, or 6,200 jobs, from September 2009 to September 2010, said Lauren Nimal, industry and business analyst for the state Department of Labor and Industry’s Center for Workforce Info and Analysis.
“They’re definitely ahead of the [growth] curve. Because it’s kind of a niche industry, it’s definitely got more opportunity for this type of growth,” Nimal said of WebpageFX.
Nimal struggled, at first, to decide which industry category applied to WebpageFX.
Join the club.
The trade is progressive and the product never stops evolving. In fact, the SEO field is so advanced, colleges haven’t caught up with a degree program for it. Most WebpageFX employees rely as much on their own experimentation with the Internet as lessons they gained at college.
However, firm founders William Craig and wife Karie Shearer, both Shippensburg University graduates, said people are so eager to join the company, every opening draws a few hundred applicants.
“It’s a talent war in this business,” Craig said.
His chief geographic competitor is California, but employees on Tuesday said Carlisle suits them.
Designer Curt Meeson is typical.
On Tuesday, the Gettysburg native and Art Institutes of Pittsburgh graduate fine-tuned designs on a Web page for Litiz-based manufacturer Woodstream Corp.’s Zareba fence systems. He’s been sketching and designing pages since high school, including a site for his high school ska band, the Trendsettaz. It was all a lark until he realized the skills could earn him a living.
Meeson’s first job after college was designing a website for a paintball company. He beat out more than 100 other applicants when WebpageFX hired him last year. He prefers small-town living and likes exploring Carlisle’s restaurants. Wenger’s Meats is his current favorite lunch spot. In the evenings, Meeson teaches Adobe Flash classes at Harrisburg Area Community College.
WebpageFX could operate anywhere. Many U.S. Internet marketing companies are
in California. But Craig, a Shippensburg native, said he wanted to grow a business near home.
And, despite the successful launch of WebpageFX, he’s not interested in being the next Chad Hurley, co-founder of YouTube, which sold to Google in 2006 for $1.65 billion.
“There’s a risk-reward aspect to that. There were 29 losers who had the same idea [as Hurley] at the same time. I don’t see myself as that big a risk taker,” said Craig, 35, who earned his masters degree in information science at the University of Pittsburgh.
Technological innovation is his product, but sales are his passion.
As a kid growing up on a farm, Craig peddled eggs, shoveled snow and mowed lawns. He learned about profits by 9. That simple formula is the foundation of WebpageFX’s success, he said.
“Clients are putting in a dollar and getting $1.25 out. Some are growing their investment in us by 30 percent a year,” Craig said.